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Operational Research

Problem Structuring with Soft Systems Methodology

One of the workshop sessions I attended at the recent OR Society Conference was Dr. Giles Hindle’s presentation on his Action Research programme and how he is applying Soft Systems approaches in coaching interventions with managers.  I found this really fascinating because it struck a chord with my views on the value of coaches introducing managers to problem solving tools and frameworks.  I hear too many managers saying that while coaching sessions can be really helpful, all too often the coaches don’t bring enough business improvement tools to the intervention.

Soft Systems Methods (SSM) are approaches that help with tackling messy, ill-structured problems (read my previous blog posts about “Wicked Problems” and here).

SSM_HindleSSM adopts a participative approach to problem solving and uses systems modeling to structure discussion between stakeholders. Giles has published a paper which discusses the challenges of teaching SSM (here).  The paper presents SSM as an all-purpose approach to tackling complex situations, which can be conceived as an experiential learning cycle.

I’m interested in how this very visual approach to problem structuring can be used to help managers solve complex business problems as it very much fits with my Lean and Systems Thinking experience of Visual Management.  I have to admit to finding it hard to create “Rich Pictures” which is one of the powerful techniques Giles uses, but I’ve become a real fan of Mindmapping (especially since I’ve had iThoughtsHD on my iPad).

Giles has kindly shared some of his papers and presentations with me and I hope to find out more (and blog more) about how SSM methods can be used to stimulate innovation and to help organisations think through current and new Business Models.

Here’s a link to Giles Hindle’s profile page at Hull University where you can find more references to his published papers.

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